Manchester City are potentially 90 just minutes away from the Champions League final as they prepare to take on Real Madrid in the second leg of their last-four tie this midweek (7.45pm Wednesday, BT Sport Europe).
It was unclear after last week’s goalless draw in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium which side was in a stronger position to advance to the showpiece event at San Siro later this month, with Madrid failing to get a potentially pivotal away goal but also avoiding defeat on the road. It was not the most entertaining of games as both teams made keeping a clean sheet their priority, but it is Zinedine Zidane’s outfit who are probably the happier and more confident going into Wednesday night’s meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The two sides picked up very different results at the weekend, Man City succumbing to a 4-2 loss at Southampton and Real Madrid grinding out a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad. The Spanish side are still in contention for the La Liga title with two games left to play, leaders Barcelona just a single point ahead of Madrid at the summit. City, conversely, will be nervously looking over their shoulder at Manchester United in fifth place in the Premier League table, with their local rivals now only four points behind – and with a game in hand – in the race for the top four. The upcoming semi-final second leg is undoubtedly the biggest match remaining in their season, but City still cannot afford to take their eye off the ball back home if they want to guarantee participation in the 2016/17 edition of the Champions League.
Playmaker David Silva is set to miss out with a hamstring injury – he may not play again this season unless Man City reach the final of Europe’s leading continental club competition – but Yaya Toure could be passed fit in time to feature. It will be interesting to see how Pellegrini configures his midfield, with Fernando and Fernandinho offering far more defensive security than the Ivory Coast international, who is nevertheless capable of conjuring a piece of magic in attacking areas.
Kevin De Bruyne should start at No.10 behind Sergio Aguero, with Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas the favourites to begin the game in the wide roles. Vincent Kompany will partner Nicolas Otamendi in the heart of the backline, with Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy set to be given the nod ahead of Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov – who attracted the ire of City supporters for his performance in the defeat by Southampton – at full-back.
Madrid, meanwhile, will welcome back Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portugal international missed last week’s first leg in Manchester through injury, but Karim Benzema is expected to miss out with a hamstring strain. One of Isco, James Rodriguez, Jese or Lucas Vazquez will come into the front three alongside Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (pictured), then, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos’ partner in midfield still unclear. First-choice Casemiro’s chances of playing are rated as doubtful, so Zidane may have to shuffle his pack in the engine room as well.
Taking everything into account, it is worth backing Madrid to triumph on Wednesday and progress to their second Champions League final in three years. With Ronaldo – and possibly Benzema – set to return to the starting XI, Los Blancos will have more firepower at their disposal at the Bernabeu, and a defensively-suspect Man City side may struggle to keep them out.
Grabbing an away goal would certainly boost Pellegrini’s side’s chances, but a 3-1 Madrid victory – perhaps with Bale as the first goalscorer – looks to be the likely outcome of this Champions League semi-final second leg.